“Immersed in a nursing role that I didn’t even know existed when I entered the profession, I find there to be a common language—one rooted in science but strongest in humanity and compassion, transcending culture, geography, and words.”
By Marcy Phipps, BSN, RN, CCRN, chief flight nurse at Global Jetcare
We’ve stopped for fuel on this narrow runway that stretches down a spit of land in the Pacific. As the sun rises we snack on cold gyudon, a Japanese dish we picked up in Guam. It’s not the best breakfast, but somehow feels right—like a lot of other aspects of this job lately.
We’d started our mission in eastern Asia, picking up an American citizen who’d fallen ill in a city that didn’t cater to tourists and where almost no one spoke English.
While there, our crew’s handler—someone whose job it is to facilitate our lodging, transportation, and generally ease our way—had taken us to a dimly lit restaurant on a back street and treated us to a myriad of local delicacies, some of which I recognized, many of which I didn’t. My usual morning run had led me through parks and a street market crowded with live chickens and full of fruits and vegetables I’d never seen.
But the ‘rightness’ I felt was owed entirely to the experience I had at the foreign hospital.
As my partner and I stood at the patient’s bedside with the local nurses and physicians, a language barrier didn’t exist. Medication names, classifications, and dosages were easily translated; ventilator settings were clear. And as we performed our physical assessments side by side, our mutual findings were noted with gestures and facial expressions. Although difficult to describe, it was an exemplar of experiences I’ve had many times and in many countries.
In my travels, I often have that feeling of ‘rightness.’ Immersed in a nursing role that I didn’t even know existed when I entered the profession, I find there to be a common language—one rooted in science but strongest in humanity and compassion, transcending culture, geography, and words. I feel like I’ve had full conversations with wives, mothers, and fathers while caring for their loved ones, traveling far distances and long hours in small planes, certain that we understand each other without the convenience of a translator. It’s remarkable and never ceases to surprise me and fill me with happiness. It also makes it nearly impossible to separate my ‘work’ from my personal life.
In the process of getting people home, I gain insight into the bigger picture, and I feel I’ve found my own home, abroad and in the sky.